Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo.
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Last night's excitement: Meeting JC Herz (summary of one of her talks, at peterme.com), and boring her half to death with UK Local Government and questions about game design and evolutionary ecology metaphors. More on the thoughts from that in a week or two, when I've had time to percolate (and come back from holiday).
Last Saturday night's excitement: A street protest by the Worker's Communist Party of Iran just round the corner from my house. Again, stories later.
The only way I can sum up today is with the fact that this morning I accidentally dressed in all brown clothes, leaving me looking like I'm wearing a retro-futurist cardigan and cords combo jumpsuit. It's not improved.
Fields (in the magnetic sense, or gravity) would be a better metaphor for rules, as opposed to nodes and arcs, the following of a road map. The Earth circles the sun, but it's not a path it's following, it's a balance between forces. I'd like to see a modern, simple, tic-tac-toesque field theory game. Maybe chess is like this -- some moves are allowed, but so foolish they might-as-well be forbidden. Some moves carry a greater cost (because they break strong anti-stupid-move incentives) but might well pay off. Sometimes the best way forward is obvious. And the incentive fields shift and change with every move and every piece of knowledge about the opponent. I wonder how a chess-playing computer using a field theory of pushes and pulls would work, instead of the current brute force approach? I understand that's how trained chess players play anyway, by recognising patterns, actual and potential, and the struggles between them. Is chess the simplest this kind of game can be?
(Before you read this, read today's earlier post about games.)
Kevan, who has done more good thinking about games than I, replies in email to my earlier post about games. He provides some links to nomics (games that change the rules from within the game) more complex than I knew about.
Synchroncity at cityofsound: Modelling Urban Behaviour Amidst Networked Ultraviolence talks about how Grand Theft Auto 3 probes the edges of games. The city changes over time; you can alter your environment in expected ways. (Some superb links in that post to, to discussions about the game universe.)
So I'm gradually more convinced that rules in games are black-and-white approximations of what is really combinations of costs and least-resistances in an incentive space. Breaking a rule (or rather, paying a cost (say, spending hours gathering weapons to break down a wall -- I've never played GTA3) to not follow the rule-habit) should have a consequence within the game, whereas games like Monopoly undergo system crash if their rules are broken (that's crash as in environmental crash, a downward spiral). Furthermore rules shouldn't always be explicitly made or broken. In the real world even a move may reinforce or weaken rules, or even make new ones. And by 'move' I mean the process of following a least-resistance path.
On a sort-of tangent, and because I've been reading a lot about the REST www-architecture recently, we could couch the old-style rules-and-moves version of games like this: A move is like a GET on a resource on the www, an idempotent request, it always has the same result. A GET returns a resource which says which other resources you can move to Setting a rule is a POST, it places the rule on the server (in the game) but how it actually gets merged into the resource-database is up to the server itself.
But this is the node-arc model, the filesystem model. This is treating a game as if it's moving around a map, and ties in with the sameness of interfaces. And games aren't/shouldn't/don't-have-to-be like this! At the very least making a move doesn't just alter the physical pieces-on-the-board representation, it adds that move into the history of the game. But more than that a move may change the rules themselves, as a side-effect, without the player intending it.
So I've been reading about games and I'm rather taken by the definition of one as a social engagement in which all parties know the rules upfront. This is as opposed to the stock market, or war. Naturally I'm trying to think of new types of games, and the methodical approach is to look for places where an abstraction or break can be made, cf the written word breaks the time dependency of speaking and hearing, or the duplicating printing press breaks the one-to-oneness of communication.
My first angle is that games, even a game of noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) doesn't have all the rules written down. We're time-bound, the way we interpret the rules depends on history, the opponent. There's no rule that says "Do not change the win-state rule and declare you've won," yet we don't do that. So firstly, would it be possible to make a completely unambiguous game, one where the entire state of the game was spelt out in the arrangement of the board?
Secondly. The reason for spelling out the rules of morality, fair play, time-binding and so on, is that I'd like to change them. Would it be possible to have a game where the codified morality of the players was changed, instead of the rules or the positions of the pieces?
Which comes onto thirdly. How about changing the axis along which the game is played? An autogenerated chess-like game has a random board starting point, random win-state, random rules and random morality. An artificial intelligence program on a computer learns how to play the game, and plays entire games against itself. The role of the players is to change the factors of the universe in which the game is played: the rules, the win-state, etc.
Fourthly. I know there are already games in which the rules change within the game itself, where the players make the win-state and the rules as they go along. But for me there's not enough time binding for some reason. What if you didn't know all the rules when you started? (And maybe computer God-sims are a genuinely new kind of game, because you don't know the natural laws there.) And more just like the real world, what if the only win-state was that your opponent agreed you'd won?
Now this is the difficult one. A game like this wouldn't work with a game like Monopoly. If I just declared that I was going to put hotels on all the purple squares and you owed me money, the game would degenerate until we ended up fighting.
But in the real world it is possible to break the rules, and the fact that's done changes the nature of the game. If I break the rules and suddenly decide that the best way to win is to bomb your civilians, the nature of the game has changed completely. That rule was always there to be broken though, why wasn't it broken before? It's because of incentive spaces, pushes and pulls, costs.
And there are certain rules that can't be broken in the real world: geography, not having more than one thing in the same place at the same time (unless you make your tanks out of bosons), matter neither being created nor destroyed. But there are rules like not killing civilians which are more mutable.
Maybe what I'm after is a game in which the rules have more time-binding (time within the game) not less. And where the moves themselves effect the incentive space in which the rules exist.
It seems to me that rules are an approximation of pushes and pulls; that if this was linguistics then the real world would be optimality theory. Rules are just the bottom of potential wells.
So given all of that. How to make a game of tic tac toe that has no rules except geography and a mutable incentive space that changes based on past moves, and no win-state except your opponent agreeing you've won? And how to make a game which uses present-day technology effectively to change the axis we can play along, one that has a mutable morality? Answers on a postcard please.
On the subject of comicbook movies, "what's this about Ben Affleck being Daredevil?" I say to Dan. He replies: "Yes. Silly, isn't it? I mean, a film of Daredevil is basically silly, since his superpowers are completely non-visual, unless you keep going into 'radar sense cam', where the screen is pitch dark but things go ping. Daredevil is a bit shit, anyway. He's blind, but his heightened senses and 'radar sense' allow him to behave as if he can see. So, basically, he's just a bloke. It's like having a dwarf whose height is doubled by a radioactive explosion". Does anybody know any Hollywood executives? I smell a pitch coming on.
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How any of the Big 3 could own connected products, Pricing hardware and changing business models, Orbits and hardware, BERG Cloud press, Testing, Facebook should make a camera, Instagram for webpages, and Ze Frank on ugly.
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